Scientists warn of Maize disease
East Africa Region is still grappling with maize crop losses worth millions of shillings following the outbreak of Maize Lethal Necrosis 9MLN) disease, Sicily Kariuki, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture has said.
Latest findings indicate that if the MLN is not checked, it could spread to more countries in sub-Saharan Africa apart from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Speaking at the opening of a three day conference in Nairobi on Wednesday on MLN Diagnositcs and Management in Africa, Ms Kariuki said maize is one of the most important crops in the Eastern and Southern African Region, doubling up as food and cash crop.
“In 2013 alone the MLN disease affected more 26,000 hectares of maize valued at Shs. 2 billion which was a significant drop in maize yields of more than 1 million tones, and this has serious ramifications on our national strategic grain reserve”, She added.
The PS noted that apart from farmers, grain traders, millers and consumers, seed companies had incurred losses due to the disease
She however, noted that the MLN Screening Facility opened in Naivasha two years ago to increase capacity to screen materials with a potential resistance to MLN has come in handy for scientists and also benefited other sub Saharan countries that have been able to screen their maize against MLN in a quarantined environment..
“I wish to assure you that this investment in the facility has not been in vain but instead it has paid off and we already have initial promising results of more than 20,000 accessions (materials) from more than 15 multinational and national seed companies and national research programs”, the PS said.
Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KARLO) Ag. Director General, Dr. Eliud Kireger said that scientists are undertaking sensitization and awareness campaigns to contain the disease in the region.
“These efforts have resulted in decline of the disease in the primary outbreak areas such as Bomet”, he said adding that other initiatives include studies to understand how the disease is being spread, developing technologies for detection of viruses causing MLND and the vectors spreading the disease.
But even as the government steps up efforts to eradicate the MLN disease, Scientists in the seed sector have warned that there is a possibility that the maize lethal necrosis virus could be spread through the soil.
Dr. Stephen Mugo, from International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre told KNA that this could further complicate the fight against the deadly disease which affects 300,000 metric tones of maize yield yearly.
“This will be a bigger challenge to farmers as they could experience more losses and its time that they now must embrace crop rotation and use of certified seed varieties,” Mugo said on the sidelines of the conference
By Wangari Ndirangu